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July 18, 1996

It's not the victory or the defeat, just the thrill of the Olympics for this Pitt physician volunteer

Despite a New England upbringing and years in medical school, Dave Jenkinson's voice carries that mellow sort of down-home tone frequently found in the voices of whitewater guides — the real ones who get wet in rafts and kayaks, no connection to Bill, Hillary or the Republicans' Alfonso D'Amato.

So, it comes as no surprise that the staff physician at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's (UPMC) Center for Sports Medicine actually worked as a river guide for 10 years or that he describes his role as physician in charge of the Olympic games' whitewater events as a "hoot." "I am just really lucky to be where I am," Jenkinson says. "It's really a pleasure because not only will I be seeing the athletes on NBC on July 27 and 28, but I get to talk to them and hopefully help them along if they need some help." Jenkinson is one of two staff members from the Center for Sports Medicine working at the Olympics, which begin July 19 with the opening ceremonies. Athletic trainer Matt Morelli is serving as trainer for the games' track-based cycling events, helping competitors who suffer minor injuries, become dehydrated or need advice on nutrients or other health topics.

Pitt also will have a competitor in the Olympics. Marisa Pedulla, a Ph.D. candidate in biology, is a member of the U.S. judo team. She will attempt to become the first American gold medalist in the judo competition on July 25.

A native of Bellefonte, Centre County, Pedulla, 26, won a place on the team in January when she beat all competitors in the 52 kilogram (114.4 lbs.) weight class at the U.S. Olympic Judo Trials in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Colorado was one of several states where preliminary Olympic events were held over the past six months. Except for the whitewater competition, all events have now moved into Georgia. The whitewater events are being held on the Ocoee River in Tennessee because it is the nearest world-class whitewater to Atlanta.

"It's just a real nice spot, a real beautiful river that is well known for its whitewater," says Jenkinson of the site. "It's just an outstanding, outstanding facility." The Ocoee flows through Cherokee National Forest east of Chattanooga near where the Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina lines join. Because of the Ocoee's distance from Atlanta, more than 150 miles, a second Olympic village has been established at Lee College, a small private institution located in Cleveland, Tenn. Roughly 700 people will be staying in the second Olympic village, including practically all of the 130 athletes from 36 nations who will be competing in the whitewater events. Jenkinson is in charge of all medical services for the village.

As might be expected considering the resources available to the Olympics, Jenkinson says he has never been around a finer sports medicine staff. Slipping into his guide persona, he says: "They're all good folks, all friendly and all giving 110 percent all the time. It is a real pleasure to work with them." Jenkinson should know what he is talking about when it comes to a sports medicine staff at an athletic event. He has previously served as a "jock doc" for the Boston Marathon, the World Cup kayak and canoe races, upper level triathlon championships, the U.S. Canoe and Kayak Association junior team and the Iron Man competition.

Even though the whitewater site is about a two and a half hour drive from the main events in the Atlanta area, Jenkinson says the excitement is still palpable in his Olympic village.

"Everybody is trying their hardest to do the best job possible for the athletes," he says. "Our biggest goal is to help all the team physicians and the physiotherapists who come with the teams. If they don't have anybody, then our goal is to keep everybody as healthy as we can and if they do get injured, help get them get back to 100 percent and back into the competition." The lone disappointment for Jenkinson came last week when he was planning to climb into a kayak and run the Ocoee whitewater course with members of the water rescue team. At the last moment, though, the life of a doctor caught up with him and he was called away to an unexpected meeting. He is still hoping to try the river sometime during his stay.

A native of Massachusetts, Jenkinson began running rivers during a summer stay in Maine in 1978. As an undergraduate at the University of Maine, he joined the outdoor club and eventually became an assistant instructor for the club's outdoor preparedness courses. That led to him taking people out on canoe trips and a job as a professional river guide in the early 1980s.

"I guided for about 10 years before I got into medical school," he says, and then adds, "I am still a registered guide in the state of Maine." Although he is only 37 years old, Jenkinson calls himself an "old fart" in the field of sports medicine because most other sports medicine fellows are five years younger. He attended medical school at the University of New England on the coast of Maine, did his family practice residency at Michigan State University and a primary care sports medicine fellowship at Ball Memorial Hospital, Ball State University in Indiana.

"It is a great fellowship," he says, "probably one of the best primary care sports medicine fellowships in the United States. I was really lucky to get into that place. It's sort of the Harvard or the Stanford of primary care sports medicine training." Jenkinson finished at Ball State in January and started in orthopedics at UPMC's Sports Medicine Center in February. "I kicked around a little bit, but I think it was worth it," he notes.

Since coming to Pitt, Jenkinson has paddled the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle, and the Cheat River and the New River in West Virginia. He wants to try the upper Youghiogheny in western Maryland, possibly the toughest piece of whitewater in the East, but says, "I haven't gotten the cobwebs out enough to go up there. Mostly I kayak. I don't do that much rafting any more," he adds.

Jenkinson's road to the Olympics began about three years ago when he applied to the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games to work as a volunteer doctor. He kept in touch with the committee and was eventually put in contact with Dwayne Knight, the chief venue medical officer for the games, who invited him to attend the whitewater test events in September 1995.

"I went down and things went real well," Jenkinson says. "A couple weeks after that, we talked it over and he [Knight] invited me to be the coordinator of athlete medical services. Basically that is the physician coordinator in charge of all athletes' medical care." Since the whitewater site is so far from Atlanta, Jenkinson also was put in charge of medical services for the Olympic village serving the event. So far he has not run into any serious medical problems, just the normal bumps, bruises, lacerations and tendinitis associated with athletes.

"At this particular point, most of the training is beginning to convert into rest and just getting used to the river," he says. "The athletes don't want to beat themselves into the creek so to speak."

–Mike Sajna

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